@johnvinod | March 25, 2021
Please begin by reading Matthew 5: 43-48. Soon after Jesus victoriously came out of his wilderness experience, he preached his inaugural sermon. This is often known as the “Sermon on the Mount” and is found in Matthew chapters 5-7 and also in Luke ch. 6. A close observer may find several similarities between Jesus’ first sermon and the Old Testament scriptures –the Torah and the Prophets. This should not be surprising. As we noticed in the wilderness, Jesus knew the Scriptures so thoroughly and employed them as his defense against the assaults of the devil.
However, Jesus’ teaching on love, in today’s passage, is the most distinctive and revolutionary part of Jesus’ teachings in his inaugural message to the people of Israel. Simply put, it is: “love your enemies!”
Jesus Christ included this teaching among his other high ethic imperatives for a reason. Since Jesus was a Jewish man and was brought up in Galilee, he perfectly understood the Jewish practice of “othering” the Gentiles. He knew their prejudices about “others.” The other nations in Jewish tradition were regarded as their enemies and they were justified in doing so because of what has been traditionally said about the other. Judaism expected people to struggle for the sake and in the name of God. They were expected to resist evil. Often, the “other” or the “nations” were evil because they were enemies of God and his people. The Torah was even used to justify warfare against the enemies. Therefore, through this revolutionary teaching on loving their enemies, Jesus was undercutting their centuries old stereotyping of “others” thus setting a tone for the rest of his ministry in the upcoming days.
The way Jesus dealt with the Samaritan woman (John 4), how he handled a Samaritan village’s rejection (Luke 9: 51-56), and how he raised up a Samaritan in his parable as a hero in relation with the Jews (Luke 10: 25-37), were all demonstrations of this central teaching.
Jesus’ response to his tradition, in the inaugural sermon, is not just an extension of the Torah prescription of loving God and loving your neighbor, but it is indeed revolutionary. The imperative to love your enemies was primarily directed to the people of Israel. This would not make the “other” or the “nations” as Israelites. The “other” will still be different from them, but they would no longer be treated as their “enemies.” Instead, the other becomes the object of their love in the same manner as they love God and their Jewish neighbor.
The same challenge is passed on to us who believe in Jesus Christ and read his teachings. If you and I were to follow Jesus and approach the “other” about whom we do not always know much, and who we habitually stereotype and develop certain prejudices against; then, the imperative is for us, too, to love the “other.” And if we loved our “enemies” there would be no racial discrimination, no hatred, and indeed there would be no war! I completely understand it is easier said than done; however, this revolutionary high ethic of Jesus demands us that we obey him. May we pray for God’s enabling grace because we need it now more than ever. Amen.